Jul 1, 2016

Getting started: 16 college-specific essay prompts for 2016-17



In what is shaping up to be a challenging year for college applicants and their advisers, one ray of light may be the level of effort some colleges appear to be putting into updating their websites with application requirements for 2016-17.

And this includes descriptions of new policies and deadlines as well as posting of essay prompts and writing supplements.

In all fairness, it looks like some schools have decided this is not the year to make major revisions in their writing requirements.  Bringing on new technology or adding a new application option may be enough for one year.

Nevertheless, it’s helpful for some students, particularly those returning to school early or those with significant fall obligations, to be able to get started on essays sooner rather than later. And with many colleges adding early admission options and/or moving up deadlines to coincide with this year’s early launch of the federal financial aid application, the smallest bit of extra time can only help.

For the record, essay prompts and other application specifications are almost always found on college websites. The Common Application and the Coalition Application have already posted prompts for personal statements, although one sets a 650-word limit enforced by software and the other strongly suggests a 550-word limit not enforced by software.  

The Universal College Application (UCA) gives the applicant freedom to write on whatever topic they wish and allows for 650 words.  The Cappex Application offers a required 600-word personal statement along with a second optional essay.

For the Common App, the Coalition App and the UCA, member colleges are free to decide whether or not to require a personal statement and many will opt out of this requirement.  Supplementary essays will be at the discretion of individual colleges and will either come as questions within the body of the application or as separate writing supplements. Note that the Cappex Application will not include additional writing requirements.

With luck, applicants will find supplementary essay prompts posted in advance of official application launch dates, which appear to vary from college to college. Some will launch on July 1, and others won’t launch until October 1, 2016.

Here is a sample of colleges that have already posted their additional essay prompts for 2016-17 (University of Virginia prompts may be found here):

To satisfy Amherst's supplementary writing requirement for the first-year application, you may choose either Option A or Option B, described below.  

Option A   Respond to one of the following quotations in an essay of not more than 300 words. 
“Rigorous reasoning is crucial in mathematics, and insight plays an important secondary role these days. In the natural sciences, I would say that the order of these two virtues is reversed. Rigor is, of course, very important. But the most important value is insight—insight into the workings of the world. It may be because there is another guarantor of correctness in the sciences, namely, the empirical evidence from observation and experiments.” Kannan Jagannathan, Professor of Physics, Amherst College
“Translation is the art of bridging cultures. It's about interpreting the essence of a text, transporting its rhythms and becoming intimate with its meaning... Translation, however, doesn't only occur across languages: mentally putting any idea into words is an act of translation; so is composing a symphony, doing business in the global market, understanding the roots of terrorism. No citizen, especially today, can exist in isolation-- that is, I untranslated."  Il├ín Stavans, Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture, Amherst College, Robert Croll '16 and Cedric Duquene '15, from "Interpreting Terras Irradient," Amherst Magazine, Spring 2015.  

“Creating an environment that allows students to build lasting friendships, including those that cut across seemingly entrenched societal and political boundaries...requires candor about the inevitable tensions, as well as about the wonderful opportunities, that diversity and inclusiveness create."
Carolyn "Biddy" Martin, 19th President of Amherst College, from Letter to Amherst College Alumni and Families, December 28, 2015. 

“Difficulty need not foreshadow despair or defeat. Rather, achievement can be all the more satisfying because of obstacles surmounted.” Attributed to William Hastie, Amherst College Class of 1925, the first African-American to serve as a judge for the United States Court of Appeals

Option B  Submit a graded paper from your junior or senior year that best represents your writing skills and analytical abilities.We are particularly interested in your ability to construct a tightly reasoned, persuasive argument that calls upon literary, sociological or historical evidence.You should NOT submit a laboratory report, journal entry, creative writing sample or in-class essay.

The supplemental essay is located within the member questions section of the Common Application and is NOT a separate writing supplement

In an effort to understand your interests and aspirations for college, we ask you to select one of the three topics below and provide a response of up to 250 words.

Bowdoin students and alumni often cite world-class faculty and opportunities for intellectual engagement, the College’s commitment to the Common Good, and the special quality of life on the coast of Maine as important aspects of the Bowdoin experience.

Reflecting on your own interests and experiences, please comment on one of the following:

    1. Intellectual engagement
    2. The Common Good
    3. Connection to place

In addition to your personal statement, Colgate requires a supplemental short-answer essay, applicable for both the Common Application and the Coalition Application.  Please respond, in 250 words or less, to one of the following prompts:
·       The Mission Statement for Colgate University sets forth 13 Goals for a Colgate Education. One goal for Colgate students is listed as: Be engaged citizens and strive for a just society: embrace the responsibilities to local, national, and global communities; use their influence for the benefit of others. Please describe how you would embrace this goal as a Colgate student.
·       Colgate prides itself in tradition. Please describe a religious, cultural, or family tradition you can share with the Colgate community.
·       We want to get to know you better. What are three words that your best friend would use to describe you and why?
·       Colgate's core curriculum teaches students empathy, informed debate, and critical thinking. Please tell us what book or piece of literature you believe is important for the entire Colgate Class of 2021 to read. Why?

The following question is required for Engineering applicants.
• If you are applying to the Pratt School of Engineering as either a first-year or transfer applicant, please discuss why you want to study engineering and why you would like to study at Duke. (150 words maximum)
The following question is required for Arts & Sciences applicants.
• If you are applying to the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences as either a first-year or transfer applicant, please discuss why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something particular about Duke that attracts you? (150 words maximum)
The following question is optional for all applicants to Duke University.
• Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you'd like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you've had to help us understand you better—perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background—we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke. (250 words maximum)

[Y]ou will be asked to respond to the prompts below on the Georgia Tech page on your My Colleges tab. The questions will be found in the Questions section - Other Information subsection.
  • Beyond rankings, location, and athletics, why are you interested in attending Georgia Tech? (max 150 words)
  • Please choose ONE of the following questions and provide an answer in 150 words or less.
    • Tech’s motto is Progress and Service. We find that students who ultimately have a broad impact first had a significant one at home. What is your role in your immediate or extended family, and how have you seen evidence of your impact on them?
    • Students are often told what classes they should take. If you had the opportunity to create a class, what would it be and why?
    • We challenge our students to "be comfortable being uncomfortable." Tell us about a time in high school that you felt outside of your comfort zone and the resolution.
Short Essay
Briefly discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved. (approximately one-half page)
Compose two brief essays (approximately one page single-spaced each) on the topics given below.
ALL APPLICANTS: As Georgetown is a diverse community, the Admissions Committee would like to know more about you in your own words. Please submit a brief essay, either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you. 

Essay Two
·       APPLICANTS TO GEORGETOWN COLLEGE: Please relate your interest in studying at Georgetown University to your goals. How do these thoughts relate to your chosen course of study? (If you are applying to major in the FLL or in a Science, please specifically address those interests.)
·       APPLICANTS TO THE SCHOOL OF NURSING & HEALTH STUDIES: Describe the factors that have influenced your interest in studying health care at Georgetown University. Please specifically address your intended major (Health Care Management & Policy, Human Science, International Health, or Nursing).
·       APPLICANTS TO THE WALSH SCHOOL OF FOREIGN SERVICE: Briefly discuss a current global issue, indicating why you consider it important and what you suggest should be done to deal with it.
·       APPLICANTS TO THE MCDONOUGH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: The McDonough School of Business is a national and global leader in providing graduates with essential ethical, analytical, financial and global perspectives. Please discuss your motivations for studying business at Georgetown.

Johns Hopkins University*
Johns Hopkins University was founded in 1876 on a spirit of exploration and discovery. As a result, students can pursue a multi-dimensional undergraduate experience both in and outside of the classroom. Given the opportunities at Hopkins, please discuss your current interests—academic or extracurricular pursuits, personal passions, summer experiences, etc.—and how you will build upon them here.

Northwestern University*
We ask an intentionally open-ended question: why would you like to attend [“Why Northwestern”]? When you answer, focus on your interests or experiences.

Pomona College*

SHORT ANSWER
Most Pomona students enter the College undecided about a major, or they change their minds about their prospective major by the time they graduate. Certainly we aren't going to hold you to any of the choices you've made above. But please do tell us why you've listed the major or majors (or Undecided!) that you have (in no more than 250 words).

ESSAY PROMPTS
  1. Each year, the Pomona Student Union hosts a “Great Debate.” Thought leaders with opposing views on a certain issue are invited to make their case in front of the student body. What is an issue that you think has two or more sides and what views would be important to capture in order to understand the nuances of the debate?  Why do you think it would be important for the Pomona student body to be exposed to this debate?
  2. Tell us about a subject that you couldn't stop exploring, a book you couldn't put down, or a Wikipedia rabbit hole you dove into. Why did it fascinate you?
  3. Pomona has a long history of bringing together students of diverse backgrounds who want to push intellectual limits and who want to engage in a community that values difference. Write about a time when you were aware of your difference.  How did it change you and what did you learn from the experience?
Candidates respond to all three essay topics. (250 word limit for each essay.)
  1. Stanford students possess an intellectual vitality. Reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development.
  2. Virtually all of Stanford's undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—know you better.
  3. What matters to you, and why?
Trinity College*
You may select one of the following prompts and write an essay of 250-650 words.

We live in an urban-global age with over half of the planet's inhabitants living in cities. Trinity College is an urban liberal arts college deeply engaged with the local community and committed to making an impact across the world. How do you aspire to use your education to impact local and global communities?

Our mission states: "Trinity College is a community united in a quest for excellence in liberal arts education. Our purpose is to foster critical thinking, free the mind of parochialism and prejudice, and prepare students to lead examined lives that are personally satisfying, civically responsible, and socially useful." How would you engage the mission of Trinity College during your years on campus?

Question 1 (Required):
How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago.

Question 2 (Optional):
Share with us a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music, musicians, performers, paintings, artists, blogs, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed, or add a category of your own.

Extended Essay Questions (Required)

Essay Option 1.
What is square one, and can you actually go back to it?
Essay Option 2.
Once, renowned physicist Werner Heisenberg said: “There is a fundamental error in separating the parts from the whole, the mistake of atomizing what should not be atomized. Unity and complementarity constitute reality.” Whether it’s Georges Seurat’s pointillism in “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, quantum physics, or any other field of your choosing, when can the parts be separated from the whole and when can they not?
Essay Option 3.
The ball is in your court—a penny for your thoughts, but say it, don’t spray it. So long as you don’t bite off more than you can chew, beat around the bush, or cut corners, writing this essay should be a piece of cake. Create your own idiom, and tell us its origin—you know, the whole nine yards. PS: A picture is worth a thousand words.
Essay Option 4.
Alice falls down the rabbit hole. Milo drives through the tollbooth. Dorothy is swept up in the tornado. Neo takes the red pill. Don’t tell us about another world you’ve imagined, heard about, or created. Rather, tell us about its portal. Sure, some people think of the University of Chicago as a portal to their future, but please choose another portal to write about.
Essay Option 5.
Vestigiality refers to genetically determined structures or attributes that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function, but have been retained during the process of evolution. In humans, for instance, the appendix is thought to be a vestigial structure. Describe something vestigial (real or imagined) and provide an explanation for its existence.
Essay Option 6.
In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose your own question or choose one of our past prompts. Be original, creative, thought provoking. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun.

In addition to the essay you provide with your Common Application, please choose two of the following prompts and respond to each in 200-250 words. (Transfer Applicants will be asked to choose from these same prompts).
  • Tell us a story that helps us better understand a person, place, or thing you find inspiring.
  • What do you hope will change about the place where you live?
  • Tell us about a small goal you hope to achieve, whether in the next 10 days, 10 months, or 10 years.
  • What will be the best breakthrough—whether scientific, social, economic, or other—between now and 2025?
Essay #1 (Required for all applicants. Approximately 250 words.)
Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
Essay #2 (Required for all applicants. 500 words maximum.) FRESHMEN APPLICANTS
Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?

How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying.

Please note: the Williams Writing Supplement is optional.

At Williams we believe that bringing together students and professors in small groups produces extraordinary academic outcomes. Our distinctive Oxford-style tutorial classes—in which two students are guided by a professor in deep exploration of a single topic—are a prime example. Each week the students take turns developing independent work—an essay, a problem set, a piece of art—and critiquing their partner’s work. Focused on close reading, writing, and oral defense of ideas, more than 70 tutorials a year are offered across the curriculum, with titles like “Biomedical Ethics,” “Women in National Politics,” and  “Extraterrestrial Life in the Galaxy: a Sure Thing or a Snowball’s Chance?”

Imagine yourself in a tutorial at Williams. Of anyone in the world, whom would you choose to be the other student in the class, and why? (Please limit your response to 300 words.)

*Admissions office called to confirm

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